Hauksbee, Francis

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Hauksbee, Francis

(b. Colchester [?], England, ca. 1666; d. London, England, April 1713)

experimental physics, scientific instrumentation.

Called “the elder” lo distinguish him from his nephew of the same name, Francis Hauksbee is remembered for his experiments on electroluminescence, static electricity, and capillarity performed between 1703 and 1713. His discoveries were first shown at meetings of the Royal Society of London, published in a series of papers in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions, and finally brought together in his Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects (London, 1709), of which a second edition appeared posthumously (1719). Translated into Italian, Dutch, and French, Hauksbee’s book was widely read in the eighteenth century. As historians of electricity from Joseph Priestley on have recognized, sustained experimentation in that subject began with Hauksbee; his demonstration that glass is a convenient and malleable material for producing frictional electricity opened the way for the work of Stephen Gray, Charles de Cisternay Dufay, and Benjamin Franklin.1 His discoveries had a marked influence on the later speculations of Isaac Newton; and a century later Laplace turned to Hauksbee’s book when he embarked on his study of capillarity.

Emerging from total obscurity, Hauksbee made his debut before the Royal Society at the meeting of 15 December 1703, the first to be presided over by the newly elected president, Isaac Newton. On this occasion Hauksbee showed a striking experiment: when mercury rushed into the evacuated receiver of his new model air pump, spilling over an inverted glass vessel, the result was a sparkling light, “a Shower of Fire descending all round the Sides of the Glasses.”2

In succeeding months Hauksbee appeared as a paid performer before the Society, carrying out a variety of experiments with his air pump. His position was soon regularized; after 1704 he served as the Society’s demonstrator or curator of experiments, although without this title which Robert Hooke and Denis Papin had enjoyed in earlier years. This arrangement was unchanged when, on 30 November 1705, Hauksbee was elected a fellow of the Society. He continued, with a diligence matched only by his ingenuity, to perform experiments at the Royal Society until the onset of his last illness early in 1713.

Of Hauksbee’s origins and early life we know little. Preliminary investigations in the London records have yielded a few facts and allow some reasonable conjectures.3 He was born about 1666, the son of one Richard Hauksbee, a draper of Colchester; in December 1678 he was apprenticed in that trade to his older brother; and by 1687, his apprenticeship completed, he had married, for in that year a daughter was born, the first of several children his wife Mary was to bear him. He was therefore in his late thirties when he first appeared before the Royal Society.

Under what circumstances Hauksbee embarked on a new career we do not know; if he served as assistant to some notable scientist, it was perhaps Papin, the curator of experiments at the Royal Society from 1684 to 1687.4 Nor do we know who invited Hauksbee to appear before the Royal Society. It may have been Newton, for the new president clearly wished to see the Society revive its former practice of having experiments performed at its meetings. Hauksbee was already recognized as an instrument maker and experimenter of great skill; he was giving demonstrations at his house or shop in Giltspur Street by 1704, for in that year he engaged the mathematician James Hodgson to lecture for him.5 From Giltspur Street, Hauksbee moved to Wine Office Court, Fleet Street, where he was visited in 1710 by the German traveler Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, and began his own public lectures, attended in that year by another German visitor, Abraham Vater.6 Printed advertisements for these lectures show that by 1712 Hauksbee had moved to Hind Court, Fleet Street,7 where he was living at the time of his death. His last appearance before the Royal Society was on 29 January 1712/13; he died late in April of that year and was buried at St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West on 29 April.

Except for his demonstration in December 1703, Hauksbee’s experiments during the first two years at the Royal Society were largely repetitions of earlier ones performed by Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, and—notably—Denis Papin. Late in 1705 Hauksbee turned to those experiments that led him step by step to his investigations in electricity. It was the striking phenomenon of the “mercurial phosphorus,” the subject of his first performance before the Society, that commanded his attention.

The subject was of some contemporary interest. In 1676 the French astronomer Jean Picard had noted that when he carried about a barometer in the dark, jostling the mercury, a luminosity appeared in the Torricellian vacuum at the top of the tube. The subject was further investigated by the Swiss mathematician Johann I Bernoulli, who reported that he could produce “a portable and perpetual phosphor” by shaking mercury in an exhausted glass vessel.8

It was this phenomenon that Hauksbee now set out to examine more closely. In the autumn of 1705 he showed the Society a number of variations of this spectacular effect, for example producing the mercurial light by forcing air upward through mercury in the evacuated receiver of his air pump. Not content with mere showmanship, he explored the precise conditions under which the light could be produced. On varying the air pressure, he found that while the glow did not appear in “so dense a medium as common air,” it did not require all the air to be drawn out. He observed, too, that the greater the motion of the mercury, the stronger the light produced; clearly the cause of the light was the friction of the mercury against the glass. But was this a property peculiar to mercury, or would other substances, when strongly rubbed in a vacuum, also yield a light?

To explore this question, Hauksbee built a contrivance by which substances could be rubbed together in the receiver of his air pump. With this device he showed that when beads of amber were rubbed against woolen cloth, a light was produced that was brighter in vacuo than in air. By contrast, when flint and steel were struck together, no sparks were produced until air was admitted.

On 19 December 1705, Hauksbee showed the Society an experiment that was to prove a significant advance. A small glass globe was mounted on a spindle and rotated with great speed against woolen cloth attached to the tightly grasping arms of a brass spring. When this was done in the evacuated receiver, there was “quickly produced a beautiful Phaenomenon, viz., a fine purple Light, and vivid to that degree, that all the included Apparatus was easily and distinctly discernible by the help of it.”9 But when air was let in, the light lost its color and intensity.

Although in succeeding months he showed experiments on quite different matters to the Society, Hauksbee continued to investigate the central problem in his own laboratory, devising a still more striking way of producing light by the friction of glass. Taking a glass globe about nine inches in diameter, he drew out the air and fixed the globe to a machine that gave it a swift rotary motion. When, in his darkened room, he pressed his open hand against the spinning globe, there was produced a purple light, so brilliant that “Words in Capital Letters became legible by it.” Yet if he applied friction to the globe when it was full of air, the light within the globe disappeared; instead, luminous specks adhered to objects brought close to the glass, and his own neckcloth was seen to glow.10

In describing this experiment, Hauksbee made no reference to electrical effects. What interested him at first was that his rubbed globe, when full of air, had the mysterious “Quality of giving Light to a Body held near it.” The effect was soon clarified. That a light resembling that produced by agitating mercury in a vacuum could be produced from glass led him, at a date we cannot determine, to think of briskly rubbing the upper part of a barometer tube without disturbing the mercury. When he did this, a faint light was produced. The next step was obvious: to rub larger evacuated glass tubes. The result was that a noticeable light was emitted, but there was no “giving light to a Body near it.” But when hollow tubes open to the air were similarly rubbed in the dark, no luminosity appeared within them. Instead, accompanied by a faint crackling sound, a light seemed to fix on nearby objects, such as his hand or pieces of gold, brass, ivory, or wood.

In daylight equally striking effects were observed, and these Hauksbee recognized as the sort of “electric” effects described by Gilbert, Boyle, and other pioneers. No sooner were the tubes vigorously rubbed than light bits of leaf brass were drawn to them and, as suddenly, violently repelled. With his tubes, and with solid glass rods, Hauksbee observed not only electrical attraction but also the phenomenon of electrical repulsion, which, although first described by Niccolo Cabeo, had been overlooked by other early experimenters. Hauksbee also detected the electric wind, for when he held a strongly rubbed tube or rod near his face, he felt a sensation as if “fine limber hairs” were brushing against it. He found, too, that he could screen off these electrical effects by means of a piece of fine muslin.11

When Hauksbee presented his results to the Royal Society in November 1706, the president (Newton) remarked that “he thought those experiments evinced that Light proceeded from the subtle effluvia of the glass & not from ye gross body” used to supply the friction.12 Although Hauksbee knew that other bodies might produce a light when rubbed in a vacuum, it was the properties of glass that henceforth became his chief concern. He built an improved version of what was, in effect, the first triboelectric generator. Taking a glass vessel “as nearly Cylindrical as might be,” he mounted it horizontally on his machine. To study the behavior of the “luminous Effluvia” he devised a primitive electroscope, a semicircle of wire to which woolen threads were fastened so as to reach within an inch of the upper surface of his cylindrical glass globe. When this was spun, the threads were swept aside by the air; but if friction was applied to the glass, the threads straightened out, pointing toward the center of the globe. Later, Hauksbee attached a series of woolen threads to the rim of a wooden disk. This disk he placed within a glass globe filled with air; when the globe was spun and friction applied to it, the threads were seen to extend themselves outward “every way towards the circumference of the Glass.”13

What particularly struck Hauksbee in these experiments was that when he brought his finger close to the surface of the activated globe, the loose ends of the threads were repelled. Clearly this mysterious “effluvium” could pass through glass. A dramatic experiment confirmed this inference. Hauksbee took a glass globe exhausted of its air and placed it near his machine, which swiftly spun a globe full of air. When friction was applied to the moving globe, the empty globe nearby was seen to glow.14

Hauksbee was not one to amuse himself—as he wrote in words that recall Newton’s—“with Vain Hypotheses, which seem to differ little from Romances.” Yet he was compelled to offer some conjectures about the phenomena he described with such accuracy. Like earlier observers of electric effects—like Gilbert, Boyle, and Newton—he spoke of “effluvia”: of an active matter lodged in glass and other “electric bodies” and released (just how he was not certain, although the heat of friction seemed to play a part) when such bodies are strongly rubbed. This “subtile” fluid is probably particulate but certainly material; propagated with a considerable force, it shows the “powerful effects of small bodies, when put into brisk and vigorous motion.” Although doubtless composed of minute bodies, the effluvia possess a certain continuity; they move “as it were in so many Physical Lines, or Rays,” and seem to progress “in a streight and direct track.” Yet the irregular motion, now attracted and now repelled, of light bodies near rubbed glass shows that the effluvial motion “is not equable and regular, but disorderly, fluctuating and irregular.” The effluvial force seems “to exert it self (as it were) by fits”: sometimes as an attractive force, sometimes as a force of repulsion. In these “smaller Orbs of Matter,” Hauksbee wrote, “we have some little Resemblances of the Grand Phaenomena of the Universe.”15

Hauksbee’s curiosity was wide-ranging. He published experiments on the propagation of sound in compressed and rarefied air, on the freezing of water, and on the rebounding of bodies in media of various densities. He made precise measurements of the specific gravity of different solids and, probably at Newton’s urging, carefully measured the refractive index of various fluids.16 But the most important of his later investigations were those on capillarity and surface forces.

The rise of fluids in small open tubes, which indeed had been observed in vacuo, was frequently recorded during the seventeenth century.17 But Hauksbee was the first to explore the subject persistently and with care. In an early demonstration before the Royal Society he took three small tubes of different diameters, plunged them in a vessel of colored water in the receiver of his vacuum pump, and showed that the fluid rose in the tubes, whether or not the air had been withdrawn, and that it rose higher in the tubes of smaller internal diameter than in larger ones.

Hauksbee returned to the problem again in 1708, convinced that attractive forces must be at work and that the phenomenon was not peculiar to glass tubes but might be the consequence of some “Universal Establish’d Law of Nature.” Later that year he demonstrated at the Royal Society that a colored liquid would rise between two flat glass plates and that the height to which it rose varied with the separation of the plates. He was able to show, too, that the phenomenon was not peculiar to glass but could be observed with plates of marble or of brass, and that fluids likewise rose through tubes filled with carefully sifted ashes. In all cases the experiments succeeded as well in vacuo as in the open air. And just as he varied the material of his plates, so he observed the capillary rise of liquids other than water: alcohol, turpentine, and what he called “Common Oil.”18

One experiment was significant far beyond the space Hauksbee devoted to describing it, for it proved that the attractive force came into play only at the inner surfaces. When he took two tubes of equal internal diameter, one with walls ten times as thick as the other, the water rose to the same height in both.

How extensively Hauksbee discussed his results with Newton and other fellows of the Royal Society we cannot know, but the Newtonian trademark is clearly evident in his book, where he speaks reverently of him. It seems clear that Hauksbee, an experimental genius but a scientific autodidact, derived his theoretical principles from Newton.

Reviewing the results obtained up to this point on the problem of capillarity, Hauksbee emphasized that all its manifestations could be reduced to the simple case of small tubes and could be explained by the same cause, which could only be attraction: “A Principle which governs far and wide in Nature, and by which most of its Phaenomena are explicable.” That there is a power in nature by which the parts of matter “do tend to each other” is past dispute, for the discoveries made by Newton (“the Honour of our Nation and Royal Society”) have established it beyond cavil. It operates not only in the “larger Portions or Systems of Matter” but also between minute and “insensible” corpuscles.19 Newton has “fully determin’d and settled” the law according to which attraction acts between larger bodies. Although the law of attraction acting at minute distances between “the smaller Portions of Matter” has not yet been determined, capillary rise may nevertheless be “handsomely accounted for” by its action.

Such confident assertions about interparticulate attractions show that Hauksbee was familiar with the ideas Newton had published a few years before in the last new query of the Latin edition (1706) of his Opticks. But by the time his own book appeared, Hauksbee knew something more, since he remarks that the law of attraction at very small distances, although not yet discovered, must be different from the law operating in the case of large bodies. It is known, he says, “that the attractive Forces here [at short distances] do decrease in a greater proportion than that by which the Squares of the Distances do encrease.”20

Of the experiments performed by Hauksbee in his last years, a number dealt with problems concerning attraction. At Newton’s request he tried without notable success to discover the law of magnetic attraction,21 and he carried out a large-scale experiment in which spherical bodies of different weight—a ball of cork, a thin glass bubble filled with mercury, a thin glass sphere—were let drop from the cupola of St. Paul’s Cathedral; the time of fall was measured by counting the beats of a pendulum set in motion by an ingenious contrivance at the instant the bodies were released.22

In January 1711/12 Hauksbee “shewed a very Curious Experiment” in which a droplet of oil of oranges was observed to move between two closely applied glass plates. The drop was placed on one of the glass plates; the other was laid over it at a slight angle, just touching the drop and forming a wedge-shaped configuration with the plates in contact at one end. When this was done, the drop was seen to move toward the end where the plates came together; and the motion was still noted when the point of contact was raised some eight or ten degrees. It was certainly with Newton’s approval, if not at his suggestion, that Hauksbee was urged to publish this paper “as relating to ye farther Discovery of the Nature of Congruity or the Agreement of the Parts of Matter.”23

Hauksbee’s next step was suggested by Newton, for we learn from the entry in the Journal Book for 22 May 1712 that after Newton had “directed Mr. Hauksbee” to give a progress report on his magnetic experiments,

The President also proposed the making an Experiment of the Drop of Oyle between two Glasse-Planes in vacuo, so as to ascertain the Proportion of the Power of Gravity and [the] congruity or agreement of ye Parts, by observing at what Angle the Drop is observed to be Stationary and not to move toward the Edge of the Wedge formed by the two Glasses.24

This remarkable experiment Hauksbee promptly performed, although apparently not in vacuo, and gave the Society a written account of it on 5 June 1712. He took two glass strips, and at the midpoint of one of these he placed a drop of oil of oranges. When the other glass was laid over the first one, the oil spread out between the surfaces. But when the upper plate was raised at one end, a droplet of oil quickly formed and moved, as in his earlier experiment, toward the end where the glasses touched. When that end was raised in its turn, with the drop at various distances from the center of the plates, Hauksbee measured the elevation that arrested the motion of the drop. At the different distances from the center, as the space between the plates narrowed, the droplet was gradually compressed, becoming at first oval and then “more and more oblong,” with an increasing area of surface contact between the oil and the glass. His results, summarized in a table, show that the farther the drop was from the center (and the closer to the point of contact of the glasses) the higher the two plates had to be raised to arrest the motion of the drop. As the area of contact increased, so did the attractive force opposing gravity.25

The experiment that occupied Hauksbee during the last months of his service to the Royal Society was suggested by another scientist of note, the mathematician Brook Taylor. In a letter to Hans Sloane, dated 25 June 1712, Taylor described an experiment which seemed to show that the curve of the surface of water between two panes of glass, inclined at a slight angle to each other, apparently resembled “the common Hyperbola.” But Taylor confessed that his “Apparatus was not nice enough,” that is, not accurate enough, to make this certain.26 His letter was read to the Society on 26 June, and “Mr. Hauksbee was desired to consider this Letter, and to prepare any Experiments he thinks proper.”27

Hauksbee set to work, adopting the arrangement described by Taylor, and reported his experiments on 31 July and again after the Society’s recess. He dipped two glass plates in colored water so that they formed a V when viewed edgewise. He then carefully measured the cross section of the meniscus, as we would call it, and confirmed Taylor’s conjecture. Indeed, further experiments, in which the two plates were put into the water at different angles, always showed one limb of the hyperbola to be asymptotic to the surface of the water and the other to a line drawn along either of the inclined plates.28

As president of the Royal Society and an elder statesman, Newton could have been expected to rest on his very considerable laurels. He was, after all, in his sixties during the period of Hauksbee’s activity; he had passed seventy when Hauksbee died. Yet Newton’s powerful mind had not lost its edge, and his interest in science was undiminished; he rarely failed to preside over the Society’s assemblies and often commented from the chair on the proceedings. The Journal Book leaves little doubt of his intense interest in Hauksbee’s experiments: he offered criticisms and on more than one occasion suggested experiments, notably such as would elucidate the mystery of attraction, that Hauksbee should perform. What soon emerged was a unique collaboration between the venerable dean of English science and the vigorous, gifted experimenter. From Newton, Hauksbee came to understand the theoretical import of some of his discoveries; and for his part the older man relied on Hauksbee’s practiced hands to test some of his conjectures. What particularly interested Newton we learn from the changes he made during this period in new editions of his two major works, the Opticks and the Principia.

When Newton brought out in 1706 the Latin version of his Opticks, the additions he made to the queries appended to that book reveal here and there echoes of Hauksbee’s early experiments, notably those dealing with the mercurial light.29

In the second edition of his Principia (1713), in his discussion of the motion of bodies through resisting mediums, Newton made use of Hauksbee’s results in dropping spheres of different weights from the cupola of St. Paul’s. Moreover, Hauksbee’s electrical experiments clearly inspired the cryptic concluding paragraph of the Scholium Generale, where Newton speaks of an “electric and elastic spirit” which, he says, “pervades and lies hid in all gross bodies.”30

Further evidence of Hauksbee’s influence is found in the extensive changes Newton contemplated for the second English edition of his Opticks (1717–1718). Sometime after 1713 Newton considered giving an account of Hauksbee’s experiments in a series of new “observations” continuing the eleven of Book 3 which dealt with diffraction. Somewhat later, greatly impressed by some experiments performed at his suggestion by Hauksbee’s successor as the Society’s demonstrator of experiments, J.-T. Desaguliers, Newton for a moment thought of including these experiments, together with Hauksbee’s, as a second part of Book 3.31 But caution prevailed, and instead Newton incorporated this material in new queries and additions to the older ones. An account of Hauksbee’s electrical experiments with the rotating glass globe and rubbed glass tubes found its place in an addition to query 8. Hauksbee’s experiments on capillary rise in fine tubes and between plates of glass, as well as the experiment on the motion of a drop of oil of oranges between glass plates, are described in an extensive addition of several pages that Newton inserted into query 23/31.32

This second English edition of the Opticks discloses a remarkable revision in Newton’s theory of matter. In the queries of 1706 Newton describes a world in which particles of matter move in empty space under the mysterious force of mutual attraction.33 By 1717 he had abandoned this position and returned, with some modifications, to his earlier view that a tenuous “Aether or Aetherial elastic spirit” could perhaps best account for many of the phenomena of nature, including attraction itself. Hauksbee’s experiments, as far as Newton was concerned, had made this subtle kind of matter perceptible to the senses. That bodies contain such a spirit “wch by friction they can emit to a considerable distance” and which is subtle enough to pass through glass, yet active enough to cause light to be emitted from gross bodies and produce other startling effects, Newton found “manifest” in certain phenomena “shewed to the R. Society by Mr Hawksby.”34


1. On this point see Abbé J. A. Nollet, Essai sur l’électricité des corps, 3rd ed. (Paris, 1754), p. 4.

2. Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects, 2nd ed. (London, 1719), p. 9. This ed., available in a modern fats. repr. (see bibliography), will be cited here as Experiments (1719). For Hauksbee’s first appearance, see the Royal Society’s MS Journal Book, IV (1702–1714), p. 37. All dates in this article are given in Old Style.

3. A summary of documents relating to the Hauksbee family, most of them in the Guildhall Library, London, was compiled by Mr. D. Dawe and kindly communicated by Dr. H. Drubba of Hannover, Germany. The inferences drawn from them are the present writer’s.

4. In the “Epistle Dedicatory,” printed in the 1st ed. (1709) of his book, Hauksbee writes of his “Want of a Learned Education.” Without supporting evidence, M. Edmond Bauer suggested that Hauksbee had been a “pupil” of Robert Boyle. See Rene Taton, ed., Histoire générale des sciences, II (Paris, 1958), 521. The chronology suggested above makes this unlikely but would fit Papin; Hauksbee’s improved air pump was based on Papin’s invention, and a number of his early experiments were ones performed earlier by Papin. For Hauksbee’s air pump and its derivation from Papin’s, see Henry Guerlac, “Sir Isaac and the Ingenious Mr. Hauksbee,” in I. Bernard Cohen and René Taton, eds., Mélanges Alexandre Koyré, I (Paris, 1964), 240–242.

5. E. G. R. Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners, pp. 288, 296. John Harris, in the pref. of his Lexicon technicum (London, 1704), lists Hauksbee among the “Ingenious and Industrious Artificers” who make mathematical and philosophical instruments. His improved air pump was widely copied by others. including Richard Bridger, who is described as having been Hauksbee’s apprentice. See W. Vream, Description of the Airpump (London, 1717).

6. W. H. Quarrell and Margaret Ware, eds., London in 1710 From the Travels of Zacharias Conrad von Ufenbach (London, 1934), pp. 77, 168. For Vater, see J. H. S. Formey, Éloges des académiciens de Berlin, II (Berlin, 1757), 159.

7. One of Hauksbee’s advertisements is reproduced in Lawrence Lewis, The Advertisements of the Spectator (London, 1909), no. 275. In the pref. to his Course in Experimental Philosophy, J.-T. Desaguliers contrasts Hauksbee’s lectures unfavorably with those of John Keill.

8. Accounts of this episode are by Park Benjamin, Intellectual Rise in Electricity, pp. 453–457; and by W. E. Knowles Middleton, The History of the Barometer (Baltimore, 1964), ch. 13. For the influence of Bernoulli’s letters on a French contemporary of Hauksbee’s, see David W. Corson, “Pierre Polinière, Francis Hauksbee, and Electroluminescence: A Case of Simultaneous Discovery,” in Isis, 59 (1968), 402–413.

9. Experiments (1719), pp. 30–31. Had Hauksbee succeeded in obtaining a nearly perfect vacuum, the effect would not have been produced.

10. Ibid., pp. 45–49. Newton may have had these experiments in mind when he wrote Hans Sloane in September 1705, asking him “to get Mr. Hawksbee to bring his Air-pump to my house [in Jermyn Street] & then I can get some philosophical persons to see his Expts who will otherwise be difficultly got together.” For this note, and a later one indicating that this private demonstration was canceled, see Correspondence of Isaac Newton, IV (Cambridge, 1967), 446–447, 448. Cf. John Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, 8 vols. (London, 1817–1858), IV, 59.

11. That Hauksbee performed some experiments with rubbed glass tubes in the spring of 1706 is suggested by a memorandum of David Gregory, dated 15 May 1706. W. D. Hiscock, ed., David Gregory, Isaac Newton and Their Circle (Oxford, 1937), p. 35.

12. Journal Book, IV, 100; entry for 6 Nov. 1706. Newton doubtless had in mind his own early experiment of 1675 showing the “effluvium” of a rubbed glass disk and its effects on light objects. See Thomas Birch, History of the Royal Society of London, III, 250–251.

13. Experiments (1719), pp. 65–75, 139–140.

14. Ibid., pp. 79–82.

15. Ibid., pp. 75, 81, 142.

16. Hauksbee’s figures (and his table of the specific gravities of various liquids) are quoted by Joseph Priestley, The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light and Colours (London, 1772), pp. 164–165, 481.

17. E. C. Millington, “Theories of Cohesion in the Seventeenth Century,” in Annals of Science, 5 (1945) 253–269.

18. Experiments (1719), pp. 179–199.

19. Ibid., pp. 200–201.

20. Ibid., p. 201. Hauksbee may have been persuaded by John Keill’s letter on attractions read to the Royal Society on 16 June 1708 (Journal Book, IV, 146) and published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, no. 315 (for May-June 1708), 97–110; see Keill’s “Theorems IV.”

21. Journal Book, IV; see numerous entries for the spring of 1712. Hauksbee’s first magnetic experiments were performed in collaboration with Brook Taylor, using the great lodestone belonging to the Royal Society. A paper on later experiments was published in Philosophical Transactions, no. 335 (for July-Sept. 1712), 506–511, and reprinted posthumously in the supp. to Experiments (1719).

22. Experiments (1719), pp. 278–281.

23. Journal Book, IV, 266–267. In Experiments (1719) he writes (p. 303): “I have since repeated the same Experiment in Vacuo, where, in all respects, it answer’d as in the open air.”

24. Journal Book, IV, 294.

25. Philosophical Transactions, no. 334 (for April-June 1712), 473–474. Reprinted in the supp. to Experiments (1719). pp. 309–311.

26. The concluding part of the letter was published in Philosophical Transactions, no. 336 (for Oct.–Dec. 1712), 538.

27. Journal Book, IV, 300. The early part of Taylor’s letter dealt with experiments on magnetic attraction performed with Hauksbee. See Taylor’s paper in Philosophical Transactions, no. 344 (for June–Aug. 1715), 294–295.

28. Journal Book, IV, 306; later demonstrations are recorded for 30 Oct. and 6 Nov. 1712. See Philosophical Transactions, no. 336, pp. 539–540; and no. 337, pp. 151–154; these papers are reprinted in Experiments (1719), pp. 314–315. 331–333.

29. Guerlac, “Sir Isaac and the Ingenious Mr. Hauksbee,” pp. 250–252.

30. Philosophiae naturalis principia mathernatica, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1713), pp. 325–326. For Hauksbee’s influence on the Scholium Generale see Henry Guerlac, “Francis Hauksbee: Expérimentateur au profit de Newton,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 16 (1963), 124–127.

31. University Library, Cambridge, MS Add. 3970 (9), described in Henry Guerlac, “Newton’s Optical Aether,” in Notes and Records. Royal Society of London, 22 (1967), 45–57.

32. See Opticks, 2nd ed. (1718), pp. 315, 366–369; cf. Guerlac, “Francis Hauksbee: Expérimentateur au profit de Newton,” pp. 122–123.

33. The changes are carefully enumerated by Alexandre Koyré, “Les queries de l’Optique,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 13 (1960 [published 1961]), 15–29. For their significance see Henry Guerlac, Newton et Epicure, Conférence au Palais de la Découverte (Paris, 1963), and papers cited above.

34. University Library, Cambridge, MS Add. 3970 (9), fol. 626.


I. Original Works. Hauksbee’s book is Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects. Containing An Account of Several Surprizing Phenomena Touching Light and Electricity (London, 1709); Experienze fisicomecchaniche sopra vari soggetti... (Florence, 1716), the version chiefly read in France, used by the pioneer electrician, C. F. de Cisternay Dufay; Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects..., 2nd ed. (London, 1719), which omits Hauksbee’s “Epistle Dedicatory” to Lord John Somers but has a “supplement” consisting of papers Hauksbee published in the Philosophical Transactions after the appearance of the 1st ed.—there is a modern facs. repr., no. 90 in Sources of Science, with a useful intro. by Duane H. D. Roller (New York-London, 1970); Natuurkundige en tuigwerkelyke ondervindingen over verscheide onderwerpen.... Uit het Engelich vertaalt door P. Le Clercq (Amsterdam, 1735; repr. 1754), based on the 2nd English ed., with repr. differing only in the imprint on the title page; and Expériences Physico-méchaniques sur différens sujets..., translated by M. de Brémond, 2 vols. (Paris, 1754), prefaced by a valuable “Discours historique et raisonné sur les expériences de M. Hauksbée,” by Nicolas Desmarest, who points out the mutual influence of Hauksbee and Newton.

II. Secondary Literature. Works of general value are the following (listed chronologically): Angliae notitia (London, 1707), p. 50, with an early printed reference to “the ingenious Mr. Francis Hauksbee, & his work on the air pump”; Robert Smith, ed., Hydrostatical and Pneumatical Lectures by Roger Cotes, 2nd ed. (London, 1747), lectures delivered not long after Hauksbee’s death, which contain references to Hauksbee’s experiments on capillarity (p. 268) and his air pump (pp. 249–250); Charles Hutton, Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, I (1796), arts. “Capillary Tubes” (p. 243), “Electricity and Electrical Force” (p. 420), and “Electrometer” (p. 423); Robert Watt, Bibliotheca britannica, I (London, 1824), col. 474, which gives no biographical information but merely lists Hauksbee’s publications, including papers in the Philosophical Transactions—the list has two works actually by the younger Hauksbee; R. E. Anderson, “Hauksbee, Francis, the Elder,” in Dictionary of National Biography, a mere summary of Hauksbee’s book; and E. G. R. Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 296–297.

On Hauksbee’s work in electricity, see the following (listed chronologically): G. J. ’sGravesande, Physices elementa mathematica, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1720–1721), with an account of electrical experiments based on Hauksbee’s in II, 1–10, and an illustration of a number of Hauksbee’s contrivances in pl. 1; J.-T. Desaguliers, Course of Experimental Philosophy, 2 vols. (1734–1744), description of electrical experiments with commentary on Hauksbee’s work in I, 17–21; Charles de Cisternay Dufay, “Premier mémoire sur l’électricité—Histoire de l’électricité,” in Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences (Paris, 1735), pp. 23–25, read 15 Apr. 1733, this paper included an important early account of Hauksbee’s work on electricity; the unsigned “An Historical Account of the Wonderful Discoveries, Made in Germany, &c. Concerning Electricity,” in Gentleman’s Magazine, 15 (1745), 193–197, which mentions Hauksbee as the inventor of the globe generator and singles out his remark that electrostatic discharges resemble lightning, since they both produce “flame as well as light”; Daniel Gralath, “Geschichte der Electricität,” in Versuche und Abhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Danzig (Danzig, 1747), pp. 184–188; Joseph Priestley, History and Present State of Electricity (London, 1767), pp. 15–25, with Period II devoted to “the Experiments and discoveries of Mr. Hauksbee”; Park Benjamin, The Intellectual Rise in Electricity (London, 1895), pp. 457–470, the first good account; Ferdinand Rosenberger, Entwicklung der electrischen Principien (Leipzig, 1898), pp. 8–10; W. Cameron Walker, “The Detection and Estimation of Electric Charges in the Eighteenth Century,” in Annals of Science, 1 (1936), 66–100, which discusses chiefly Hauksbee’s thread electroscope; I. Bernard Cohen, Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments (Cambridge, Mass., 1941), pp. 32–37; and Duane Roller and Duane H. D. Roller, “The Development of the Concept of Electric Charge,” in Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science, II (Cambridge, Mass., 1957), pp. 559–571.

Hauksbee’s work in capillarity and surface effects is discussed in W. B. Hardy, “Historical Notes Upon Surface Energy and Forces of Short Range,” in Nature, 109 (1922), 375–378; and E. C. Millington, “Studies in Capillarity and Cohesion in the Eighteenth Century,” in Annals of Science, 5 (1945), 352–369.

Hauksbee and Newton are discussed in Henry Guerlac, “Francis Hauksbee: Expérimentateur au profit de Newton,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 16 (1963), 113–128; “Sir Isaac and the Ingenious Mr. Hauksbee,” in Mélanges Alexandre Koyré, I. Bernard Cohen and René Taton, eds., I (Paris, 1964), 228–253; and “Newton’s Optical Aether,” in Notes and Records. Royal Society of London, 22 (1967), 45–57. On a number of points the present article supersedes these earlier papers.

Henry Guerlac

Hauksbee, Francis

views updated May 29 2018

Hauksbee, Francis

(b. London, England, April 1688; d. London, 11 January 1763)

experimental physics, scientific instrumentation.

Like his famous uncle, and often confused with him, the younger Francis Hauksbee in his early years made scientific instruments and gave public demonstrations on scientific subjects. Baptized on 15 April 1688, he was the son of John Hauksbee, a freeman of the Drapers’ Company and the brother of the elder Francis.1 As early as 1710 the nephew was assisting his uncle in the house in Wine Office Court, Fleet Street, where the German traveler Z. C. von Uffenbach met him.2 By 1712 Hauksbee had moved to Crane Court, near Fetter Lane, opened his own shop, and begun a public course of experiments largely derived from those of his uncle. Explanatory lectures to accompany the experiments were given by Humphry Ditton and, after 1715, by William Whiston.3 During his uncle’s last illness in 1713, and for a short time after the elder Hauksbee’s death, he was paid for performing experiments before the Royal Society.4 But he did not succeed to his uncle’s post, which went instead to the much abler J.-T. Desaguliers.

In making a reflecting telescope, in which he had a certain success,5 Hauksbee was briefly associated with John Hadley, inventor of the optical sextant. With Peter Shaw he showed experiments with a portable chemical laboratory. He never became a fellow of the Royal Society, but in 1723 he was chosen to succeed one Alban Thomas as clerk and custodian at the Royal Society.6 He held this post until his death at the age of seventy-five.7 His publications, or those on which his name appears, are of little interest; for the most part they consist of announcements or outlines of courses of experiments.


1. Summary of documents on the Hauksbee family, kindly communicated by Dr. H. Drubba of Hannover, Germany.

2. Travels of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, p. 77.

3. Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners, p. 302. For an advertisement announcing and describing one of these demonstrations with Ditton, see The Spectator, no. 268 (7 Jan. 1712). For the collaboration with Whiston, see bibliography.

4. An entry in the Royal Society’s MS Council Book for 24 Aug. 1713 (p. 266) reads: “Mr. Hauksbee his nephew was ordered five Guineas for his Services since his Uncle’s death he giving a Receipt in full.”

5. R. T. Gunther, Early Science in Oxford, II (Oxford, 1923), p. 332.

6. John Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, I, 810; IV, 506.

7. Gentleman’s Magazine, 33 (1763), 46.


I. Original Works. Hauksbee’s writings include A Course of Mechanical, Optical, Hydrostatical, and Pneumatical Experiments. To Be Perform’d by Francis Hauksbee; and the Explanatory Lectures Read by William Whiston (London, n.d.), probably written by Whiston; An Experimental Course of Astronomy Proposed by Mr. Whiston and Mr. Hauksbee (London, n.d.); An Essay for Introducing a Portable Laboratory by Means Whereof All the Chemical Operations Are Commodiously Performed by P. Shaw and F. Hauksbee (London, 1731); and Proposals for Making a Large Reflecting Telescope (London, n.d.).

II. Secondary Literature. See R. E. Anderson, “Hauksbee, Francis, the Younger,” in Dictionary of National Biography, which suggests, incorrectly, that he may have been the son of the elder Hauksbee; W. H. Quarrell and Margaret Ware, eds., London in 1710 From the Travels of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (London, 1934); and E. G. R. Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1967), p. 302, a good short sketch.

Henry Guerlac

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